A Look at the 220th Legislature and Annual State of the State Address
On January 11, 2022, New Jersey began a new legislative session marked by the Legislature’s reorganization and the Governor’s State of the State Address.
Democrats retained control of both houses, albeit with much smaller margins after Republicans managed to win back several seats in the November elections. Democrats now hold a 24 to 16 majority in the Senate and a 46 to 34 majority in the General Assembly.
The Senate has new leadership for the first time in twelve years, with Senator Nicholas Scutari of Union County being sworn in as the Senate President and Senator Teresa Ruiz of Essex County becoming the Senate Majority Leader. Senator Sandra Cunningham of Hudson County remains the Senate President Pro Tempore. Senator Steven Oroho of Sussex County is now the Republican Leader, replacing Tom Kean, Jr., who did not run for reelection in order to focus on his campaign for the 7th Congressional District. The Senate also welcomed five new members. Senators Jon Bramnick (R-21), Gordon Johnson (D-37), Jean Stanfield (R-8), and Andrew Zwicker (D-16) all previously served in the General Assembly. Senator Ed Durr (R-3) has not previously held elective office.
In the Assembly, Craig Coughlin of Middlesex County and Louis Greenwald of Camden County will continue as Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively, for another two-year term. Assemblyman John DiMaio of Warren County is the new Republican Leader, replacing Jon Bramnick, who served in that role for nearly a decade. The General Assembly also welcomed 16 new members: Asm. Don Guardian (R-2); Asw. Claire Swift (R-2); Asw. Beth Sawyer (R-3); Asw. Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-3); Asm. Michael Torrissi (R-8); Asm. Brandon Umba (R-8); Asw. Marilyn Piperno (R-11); Asw. Kimberly Eulner (R-11); Asw. Vicky Flynn (R-13); Asw. Sadaf Jaffer (D-16); Asm. Reginald Atkins (D-20); Michele Matsikoudis (R-21); Asm. Christian Barranco (R-26); Asm. William Sampson IV (D-31); Asw. Ellen Park (D-37); and Asw. Shama Haider (D-37).
New Committee Chairs
The Legislature’s reorganization has also impacted the leadership of a number of committees. Most notably, Sen. Brian Stack (D-33) now serves as the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) is now Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
The General Assembly has yet to announce its Committee assignments. However, new Chairpersons will be announced for numerous committees, including: Aging and Senior Services; Agriculture; Appropriations; Commerce and Economic Development; Human Services; Law and Public Safety; Science, Innovation and Technology; and State and Local Government.
State of the State Address/Governor’s Priorities
Although Governor Murphy will not be sworn into his second term until January 18, he delivered his pre-recorded annual State of the State address on Tuesday with no live audience, in which he called for unity and mutual respect among government officials and residents as the State continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic and a host of other issues.
A significant portion of the Governor’s speech focused on the State’s fight against COVID-19 and the challenges residents have faced over the past two years as a result of the pandemic. Governor Murphy acknowledged the frustration and fatigue that many are feeling but called on all New Jerseyans to remain committed to precautionary measures as the number of cases in the State surges due to the Omicron variant. The Governor noted that he had re-declared a Public Health Emergency earlier in the day and called it a “necessary step” to ensure the State is responsive to the increase in new cases and hospitalizations. After the speech, Senate President Scutari and Assembly Speaker Coughlin issued a statement of support for the Governor, while Republicans took to Twitter objecting to the Governor’s decision to unilaterally extend his emergency powers.
In looking ahead, Governor Murphy underscored the following areas as some of the high priority items that his administration will focus on in the coming year:
- Pursuing gun safety reform and reducing gun violence
- Making healthcare more affordable and more accessible, by, for example, lowering costs for State-administered programs such as Medicaid, NJ FamilyCare, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD), and Senior Gold
- Sending the Legislature a plan to address prescription drug pricing and make medications more affordable by increasing transparency across the entire supply chain
- Continuing to attract others to New Jersey and center the State as an innovative hub through the Innovation Evergreen Fund
- Redoubling efforts to drive down the rate of unemployment as the State continues to combat the effects of the pandemic and looks ahead to job growth from the burgeoning cannabis and clean energy industries, among other areas
- Remaining steadfast in efforts to combat the opioid use epidemic and ensure treatment for those in need of help
The full text of the Governor’s State of the State address can be found here. The Legislature will hold its first set of committee hearings for the new session on January 27.